There are a bunch of things about this matchup that I think favor Texas.
* Texas' pass defense against an inexperienced Notre Dame receiving corps replacing four of its top five receivers from last year, including Will Fuller V, who killed Texas in 2015 (7 catches for 142 yards and 2 TDs).
* I love Texas' receiving corps against Notre Dame's back seven - especially the 4.3 speed of Devin Duvernay and Armanti Foreman getting behind two box safeties for ND in Avery Sebastian and Drue Tranquill.
* If you're going to start a true freshman QB (Shane Buechele) in a game this big, the way Texas is, you'd prefer the other team not have an elite pass rusher - and Notre Dame doesn't.
* I even expect Texas to be able to run the ball - maybe for 200-plus yards - against ND's salty, veteran defensive line.
Zaire didn't have to run against the Texas defense last year, because he was too busy picking the Horns' secondary apart with his arm (19 of 22 for 313 yards, 3 TDs).
But when Zaire has needed to run, he's run well (22 carries for 96 yards, 1 TD vs LSU in 2014 Music City Bowl).
Until I see the Texas defense stop the run, I'm not going to assume anything. Of course, if the Horns stop the run, there very well could be a party on 6th Street Sunday night the likes we haven't seen since around 2005-06.
I think it's a 34-31 game - either way. Because of ND's experience and play-making at QB behind a salty offensive line that has two NFL draft picks on the left side (LT Mike McGlinchey and LG Quenton Nelson), I'll say ...
Notre Dame 34 ... Texas 31
Sunday is arguably the biggest game of Charlie Strong's career as a head coach. The Longhorns have a lot to prove on the field after last season's 5-7 finish, including an embarrassing loss to the Irish. With the new offensive staff in place, the Texas fan base is anxiously awaiting change in Year 3.
The season opener will be far from a cakewalk. While Notre Dame lost a number of starters from last year's squad, the Irish returns plenty of talent and guys who have seen significant playing time.
I fully expect ND to rely on a blitz-heavy defensive attack, especially if true freshman Shane Buechele is playing.
But I think the outcome of this game will come down to how well the Longhorns' defense can stop Notre Dame's ground game and force QBs Malik Zaire and/or DeShone Kizer to throw the ball. If the defense can be successful in making the Irish offense one-dimensional, then Texas has a significantly higher chance of pulling the upset.
I just cannot convince myself that is something that will happen. It's hard to shake how much the run defense struggled last season, and until they show something different on the field, it's difficult to give the Longhorns the benefit of the doubt.
However, I do expect this game to be significantly closer than last year's 38-3 blowout. It will be tough for fans to see a silver lining if this game ends in a loss, but if there's significant improvement on both sides of the ball, then that will be a huge positive for Texas moving forward.
Notre Dame 35 Texas 28null